Is Wheat the Next Big GMO for Monsanto Company?

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Monsanto (NYSE: MON  ) is caught in the middle of a unique situation. The anti-GMO (genetically modified organism) movement could be a threat to existing soybean and corn seed sales, while the potential to commercialize genetically modified (GM) wheat could create a huge new market opportunity. Monsanto's decision to either double-down on GMOs or shy away from a jeopardized industry may shape the future of agricultural technology.

A look into the GMO business
Corn, soybeans, wheat, and cotton are the four largest crops in the U.S. in terms of total sales, and wheat is the only one not grown with GM seed. Worldwide, wheat is the most widely grown crop. Advances in wheat crop technology are believed by many to be one of the most promising ways to address food shortages and starvation across the developing world.

In spite of the promise of GM wheat, DuPont (NYSE: DD  ) and Monsanto both abandoned R&D efforts focusing on GM wheat at the turn of the century due in large part to each company's own market analysis. The decisions made by both companies were likely influenced at the time primarily by the price of wheat and a fear that the somewhat risky R&D investments wouldn't provide a strong enough return. The price farmers pay for GM wheat would have been notably higher than the existing hybrid seeds available, and given the market price of wheat balanced with what may have only been marginally increased yields, farmers may not have been as receptive to GM wheat as they have been to other cash crops.

The other complicating factor from a decade ago that remains in play today is the lingering suspicion that the international community will be reluctant to purchase GM wheat. China made clear their unease with GM crops at the end of 2013 when the country rejected two shipments of distiller's grain that contained corn product originating from a particular genetically modified seed. Stringent regulations on GMOs in the European Union (EU) add to the concern of international acceptance for newly developed wheat strains.

Monsanto and Syngenta (NYSE: SYT  ) are among the agribusiness giants willing to make the investment in GM wheat in spite of the potential downfalls. Both companies have advanced to the field testing stage, though more extensive testing on crop yields and other desired properties are needed before a commercial release becomes reality. As the technology continues to develop, the public relations battle will rage on between concerned consumers and activist groups at odds with wheat growers and wheat trade groups who are putting their support behind biotech research on the crop.

Getting out of the GMO business
There has always been a portion of the public against GMOs since their less controversial beginnings, and the anti-GMO movement is continually gaining momentum. In spite of falling short on attempts to require labelling of GMO foodstuffs in California and Washington, anti-GMO proponents are gaining more public attention as major food companies like General Mills and Chipotle join the movement.

Monsanto makes more money from the sale of genetically modified seed than all of its major competitors combined, yet the company's seeds and genomics business is not its fastest growing business sector. Monsanto is far from exiting the GM seed business as demonstrated by continued research and development (R&D) investments into new seed technologies, but the company is also investing heavily into other technologies such as climate and field condition modeling tools to help farmers get the most return from their crops. As public sentiment grows increasingly wary of GMOs, Monsanto is creating alternative methods for remaining the dominant agricultural technology company that farmers will continue to rely on for maximizing their yields.

The takeaway
Demand for wheat is projected to increase 40% by 2030, and the expectations for growth are not going unnoticed by the biggest companies in agribusiness. Whether or not GM wheat sales start contributing to the earnings of Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta is more dependent on how the engineered crop is received internationally than it is on domestic considerations. Nonetheless, expect anti-GMO activists in the U.S. to make it well known that adding wheat to the growing list of genetically modified seeds will not happen without a fight.

Read/Post Comments (10) | Recommend This Article (3)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 10, 2014, at 1:47 PM, cl4795 wrote:

    Read Wheat Belly and you will eat no more wheat,.

  • Report this Comment On February 10, 2014, at 2:02 PM, funfundvierzig wrote:

    DuPont addressing "food shortages and starvation across the developing world"? Ironically, if not amorally, DuPont and its partner, oil giant BP are currently feeding 1.1 million tonnes of wheat annually to a huge factory in Hull, England to manufacture bad mileage ethanol to fuel trucks and cars and whatnot.

    Such is the DuPlicity of DuPont and its flawed business model, FOOD-to-FUEL & FABRICS. Are children in the pain of hunger supposed to drink down a glass of DuPont bread-based bio-fuel?


  • Report this Comment On February 10, 2014, at 5:57 PM, Firnatine14 wrote:

    How much is Monsanto paying the Fool for all this propaganda BS? its been non stop Monsanto cheerleading articles by the Fool for months. Whatever happened to journalistic integrity?

  • Report this Comment On February 10, 2014, at 6:23 PM, larry888 wrote:

    You will be pointed out in up coming videos that will be viral, that you support pushing poison foods to unknowing kids and families. As you are paid by MonSATANo to spread obvious propaganda, which the Motley Fool a very very un-credible company not only in pushing/lying to people about pushing GMO's but also lying in the pushing of your core business stocks. Who can trust your brand NOW?????????

  • Report this Comment On February 10, 2014, at 11:56 PM, frellmedead wrote:

    Considering all of the excessive amounts of wheat gluten that food manufacturers are pumping into everything is making everyone sensitive or even intolerant to wheat, this will be one more reason for people to go gluten free.

  • Report this Comment On February 11, 2014, at 2:16 AM, Wiwi wrote:

    This is so sad if any GMO producer does not start following a few basic things mother nature has given us. GMO do not create life. They destroy it. If Russia decides to bomb these major GMO producers. I would think. Most Americans would be grateful for the help.

  • Report this Comment On February 11, 2014, at 9:00 AM, RevStorm wrote:

    When will people open their eyes? GMO is not about feeding the world it's about Populate Control. Limit population by Food is clearly spelled out in the CODEX Alimentarius. They are not hiding it! Ted Turners Rants? Bill Gates vaccines? Georgia Guide Stone? David Rockefeller's Quotes?

  • Report this Comment On February 11, 2014, at 1:39 PM, Jason1 wrote:

    @ RevStorm - that sounds like the ranting of a lunatic. Besides, why would a company in the food business want to reduce the number of people eating food?

  • Report this Comment On February 11, 2014, at 2:50 PM, Linann wrote:

    We don't want to eat their poison corn, what makes them think, we want ot eat their poison wheat?

  • Report this Comment On December 10, 2014, at 8:57 AM, Ripitfromhistory wrote:

    Companies in the food business want to INCREASE a control/profit. Once you sign on the line you are in for a long haul. The writer here is a USA scientist - which speaks volumes about the integrity of his comments. I would much prefer the studies in France that were not manipulated - and this Also to consider -flagrant fraud in the scientific community in the USA. We need to go back to eating the ancient grains and live healthy. Being in the medical field, this is the only way the peoples of America can return to living a full healthy life. It amazes me how many fellow MD's ignore all the damage from vaccines and GMO's...they are in bed with the ag profiteers and chose instead to drive Bentley's and own multibillion dollar houses...Ancient grains is the way to go.

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Shamus Funk

Shamus is a freelance writer for the Motley Fool focusing on energy, agriculture, and materials. He has his Ph.D. in Chemistry from North Dakota State University. After graduation, Shamus worked at a small biotechnology firm before becoming a professor of chemistry.

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